Understanding Okhel Nefesh
Shiur #01: Understanding
prohibitions against melakha on
Although the MOTIVE
for the okhel nefesh allowance is clearly the concern of simchat
From one perspective, the permissibility of okhel nefesh is the result of the reconciliation and prioritization of two conflicting interests. Halakha often addresses conflicts of halakhic interests and directs our procedural response. For example, a positive commandment will override a prohibition if the mitzva can only be executed by violating the aveira; this principle of asei docheh lo ta'aseh is the most familiar instance of halakhic reconciliation between conflicting interests.
nefesh may be the product
of such a resolution. The value of
simchat Yom Tov was prioritized over that of complete observance
of the 39 melakhot, yielding a list of "sanctioned" activities; in
THEORY, these activities should not be allowed, but they are acceptable because
they serve a higher purpose.
Ultimately, then, chag is quite similar to Shabbat in
demanding strict avoidance of all forms of melakha. Practically, the Torah allows food-based
activities in order to preserve the quality of simchat
The Ramban, in his
comments to Parashat Emor, suggests a very different model. Noting the frequency of the term
"melekhet avoda" (harsh work) in the description in Parashat Bo of
the prohibition of work on Yom Tov, the Ramban claims that Shabbat
and Chag are FUNDAMENTALLY different. On Shabbat, ALL work is
forbidden, whereas on chag only melekhet avoda is proscribed. Melekhet avoda refers to work
that does not yield benefit, whereas the complementary term (alluded to but not
articulated by the Torah), "melekhet hana'ah," would refer to work which
does indeed produce benefit. By
stipulating a prohibition of melekhet avoda on Yom Tov, the
Torah implies that melekhet hana'ah was never proscribed. The permission to perform activities for
okhel nefesh is not a product of "conflict resolution;" these
forms of work were never forbidden on
question may appear to be one of syntax, the different understandings may lead
to several interesting consequences.
Most notable is the disagreement between Beit Shammai and
A second major debate between the Tannaim revolves around the question of which type of activities may be performed. If an act is geared toward food benefit (in which case even Bet Shammai would permit it), may "secondary" actions performed not upon the food but upon related objects be allowed? The debate surrounding the status of makhshirin, ancillary but meal-related objects, is detected in a machloket between Rabbi Yehuda and the Rabanan (see, for example, Beitza 28b). Rabbi Yehuda permits melakhot related to machshirin to be performed on chag (for example, sharpening a knife), whereas the Rabanan disallow it.
Once again, we may sense the larger structural issue underlying this machloket. If the melakha exception simply OVERRIDES an issur to assist in the achievement of simchat chag, it would be difficult to distinguish between categories of melakhot performed upon food and melakhot performed upon secondary items. We would more likely agree with Rabbi Yehuda that ALL activities relating to food are permissible, regardless of the object of the melakha. The Rabanan, on the other hand, may have viewed the okhel nefesh exception as categorical - certain types of activities that are generally performed in the course of food preparation were never forbidden on Yom Tov. Actions directed at secondary but food related objects were included in the original prohibition against melakha on Yom Tov.
It should be noted
that the identical logic cannot necessarily be employed to explain BOTH the
machloket between Beit Shammai and
An interesting question arises from the first mishna in the third perek of Beitza, which prohibits fishing on chag, even if the fish will be eaten on chag. Why doesn't the okhel nefesh permission allow this activity? Although the Rishonim offer different responses, both Rashi and the Rambam claim that any melakha which could have been performed BEFORE chag may not be performed during chag - even if the melakha would serve okhel nefesh interests. The Rambam presents this limitation as Rabbinic, whereas Rashi implies that such activities are forbidden even on a Biblical level.
If we believe that
okhel nefesh related activities were never proscribed, it would be
counterintuitive to adopt this limitation of the Rambam and Rashi. Cooking was never outlawed on Yom
Tov and should be allowed independent of whether it could have been